Vietnam War took more than 58,000
Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.
As a 17-year-old white American from the Central California, namely the city of Chowchilla, I voluntarily joined the U.S. Army, willing to fight and die for my country. My new wife was pregnant, and I could not support her or pay for the baby, so I had to do something as I don’t take charity.
I had a gladiator’s heart and no fear. I was the sixth brother in my family to join and serve in the Armed Forces. I was the second brother to go to war. I believed that it was now my turn, and if I were to die, my wife would receive a $10,000 death benefit and be able to purchase a house. I saw the war in Vietnam as a win-win situation. And I really didn’t have a choice.
Five months after my enlistment in 1970, I got my orders to go to Vietnam. I served with 1st Calvary in a place called Phuoc Vinh. I was attached to the 9th Infantry Division. We operated in hot spots called Con Thien, Gio Linh, Camp Carroll and Cam Lo and LZ Snuffy. I vividly remember trembling with fear from the incoming shells in the mud-filled holes at Snuffy, wishing the shelling would stop. I remember those feelings like it was yesterday.
I, along with others, witnessed deaths unimaginable. We picked up the pieces of bodies obliterated by direct hits. We stacked green body bags. I often wondered why others died and I lived.
I got to Phuoc Vinh in August, and the first 10 days were not too bad until Dec. 25, 1970. That was the day that I will never forget. Let me back up a little.
When my brothers and I were in a firefight, and I saw the enemy drop. It is something that you will never forget. However, when you are in a firefight, and you see somebody drop that you know you were the one that was responsible for that death, not only will you not forget it, but it will haunt you every day for the rest of your life. That one person that you killed had a sister, brother, mother, father, wife and possibly children. Now that person is gone, and his family will have to live without him in their lives.
Every night when I shut my eyes, I can see him drop and I can see his face.
Now back to December 25. I recall being at Snuffy and we were getting mortars dropped on us; it seemed to go on for days and days. I saw many of my comrades killed and blown up right next to me. When we were engaged in firefights, we would yell at each other to know where each of us were so there was no crossfire. Jerry Lacy was a great friend and comrade. I remember him telling me that he had two children at home, and he always talked about his wife, telling me that they were going to open up a restaurant when he got home.
Lacy stopped yelling. He was about 3 feet from me.
I looked over and found he had taken a shell right in the chest. I crawled over to him. He was just lying there looking up at the sky. I could see through his chest and blood was everywhere. I held up his head and attempted to hold my hand over that hole, but I knew it was too big and too late for him.
This was the first time that I experienced death up close. He was telling me that there was a lot of pain. Then all of a sudden, he said that the pain went away. He then said that he was very cold. I took off my field jacket and laid it over him. Then he told me that he was warm and that he was no longer cold. He continued and told me that he was not scared.
His eyesight was fading, and he told me that he would see me later. Lacy died right there on that battlefield in my arms. He was not going home to see his family. He would not see his children grow up. His wife would have to raise those children without him by herself. This all happened on Christmas day in 1970. I do not think of Christmas as a joyous day. I hate that day. I hear a lot of times that it gets better with age. Well, it doesn’t. It has been almost 52 years and it still haunts me. I think you just learn to live with it.
Anyway, in the next eight months while I was deployed, four more of my good buddies paid the ultimate price. I was spared. I have been fighting the reasons that I survived in my head since that time in Vietnam. I should have died like them on that battlefield. They call that survivor’s guilt. Whatever they call it, it still bugs me.
When we landed back in the states, I stood up and looked at my arms and legs thinking that I am fortunate that I have all of my limbs. Then I stepped off of the plane and, to my surprise, I was called names that I won’t repeat. I guess these were the protesters that did not have to go. I wanted to turn around and go back to Vietnam. I become angry when I think about the very young lives that were lost in Vietnam and the Gold Star families who have suffered. I am saddened by the sacrifices of true heroes and the disrespect that was shown to those who were fortunate enough to come home.
The Vietnam War claimed the lives of more than 58,000 American service members and wounded more than 150,000. And for the men who served in Vietnam and survived unspeakable horrors, coming home offered its own kind of trauma. Some say they had invectives hurled their way; others, like me, remember being spit on. As a cohort, Vietnam veterans were met with none of the fanfare and received none of the benefits bestowed upon World War II’s “greatest generation.”
“When you come home... you raise your family. You got a career. You’re doing your stuff like that, and when you get older... this war comes back on you. The things you seen. The things you did. ... Do you think, ‘Was I wrong doing this?’... It works on your mind a little bit.”
This December, I will be married 53 years. I still don’t know why and how she put up with me all these years. I put her through hell for most of them.
I retired from the automotive industry and now am a Docent at the Fresno Veterans Museum. I get a certain feeling or vibe each time i walk in there. I see something new each time. There is so much history in there with all of the heroes. I don’t feel so alone anymore.
Any comments? Email me at AboutVets@yahoo.com.
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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,
1st Cav/9th Infantry